November 04, 2009

Vida Institucional Artificial / Institutional Artificial Life

Conferência proferida no âmbito do Ciclo "Das Sociedades Humanas às Sociedades Artificiais", edição 2009, sessão de 26 de Março. Organização do Instituto de Sistemas e Robótica (pólo do Instituto Superior Técnico), no âmbito do Laboratório de Sistemas Inteligentes.

Conference from the series "From Human Societies to Artificial Societies", 2009 edition, session of March 26. Conferences organized by the Institute for Systems and Robotics (Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon).

Seguem-se o vídeo desta conferência e os slides usados na ocasião. A reconstituição da conferência é possível combinando o uso destes dois recursos: mudar os slides manualmente à medida que a palestra avança.

Here is the video of this conference and the slides showed at the time. The reconstitution of the conference is possible by combining the use of these two features: change the slides manually as the lecture progresses. Everything in Portuguese.

Clicar para mais informação sobre esta conferência.

More on this conference, here.

Clicar para mais informação sobre este ciclo de conferências.

More on the whole set of conferences, here.


March 06, 2009

Bio, Nano, Robo – New Challenges for Historians of Technology

The SHOT (Society for the History of Technology) 2008 Annual Meeting took place in Lisbon last October. I served as chair of the session 1, on “Bio, Nano, Robo – New Challenges for Historians of Technology”, and commentator to the three presentations at the programme. The following is a version of the commentary I produced at that occasion.

We have just heard three interesting presentations on the history of nanotechnology, genetics as an economic endeavour, and robotics.
This session is about “new challenges for historians of technology”. Why nanotechnology, genetics and robotics must be taken as new challenges for historians of technology or historians of science?
I don’t know whether it is clear for you why nanotechnology, genetics and robotics fit well in the same session of a meeting like this one. It is not for me. But it is perhaps a difficulty of mine, because I am not a historian of technology, not even a historian.
I am a philosopher and I am currently working as a researcher to the Institute for Systems and Robotics at the Technical University of Lisbon. And, from that perspective, and not from the perspective of a historian, I decided to suggest something on this issue. I will suggest that we can deal with these questions within the framework of the sciences of the artificial.
Let me try to explain what I mean, as a commentary on the presentations.

Christian Kehrt challenges usual definitions of nanotechnology, and suggests increasing our understanding of the field having a closer look at the visions of the involved actors. The point is that visions enable actors to open new fields of research, provide new symbolic resources and broader fields of possibilities, so triggering further technological development.
Christian identifies one of the core visions of nanotechnology: the idea of molecular engineering, which provides the grounding for a major venture: to transgress the limits of nature, to become a deus ex machina, using molecular components and atoms.
My question is: what’s new about that vision?
Already by year 1637 the French philosopher René Descartes, in his Discourse on the Method, wrote that science can give us the practical knowledge needed to “render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature” (his words). This statement is usually taken as a manifesto of modern science. It is usually interpreted as a programme for physics and other scientific disciplines dealing with the external physical world.
However, Descartes added that becoming the lords and possessors of nature is a desirable result “especially for the preservation of health”. And he was using a broad concept of health and of medicine, as this quote testifies. Health is the first and fundamental of all the blessings of this life «for the mind is so intimately dependent upon the condition and relation of the organs of the body, that if any means can ever be found to render men wiser and more ingenious than hitherto, I believe that it is in medicine they must be sought for.»
So, the grand vision of modern science, to make ourselves the lords and possessors of nature, is directed, from the beginning, to our own inner mechanisms, bodily and mental mechanisms of human beings.
Still, as Christian Kehrt said, one of the core visions of nanotechnology is to transgress the limits of nature. This is perhaps new compared with Descartes’ vision.
Yet, drawing a clear distinction between transgressing and respecting the limits of nature can prove harder than expected.

Sally Hughes’ presentation can be taken as a proof that there are people and companies struggling to modify the very concept of respecting and transgressing the limits of nature.
She gave us some elements of the history of Genentech, the first company entirely devoted to genetic engineering. Genentech had to face a bunch of problems from its first days to its current status as the most successful biotechnology company in the world. Problems with technology, with law, with politics, and with regulation. One of those problems was an intense legal dispute on the question “could one patent life?”. Genentech, despite the high level of risk and uncertainty that characterized the environment of the early development of this venture, made a spectacular debut on the New York stock market in the fall of 1980.
So, in a sense, Genentech managed to successfully modify the status of the question “what is to respect nature”. And they did so largely from outside the walls of scientific institutions: at courts, at companies, at media to change opinion. The social construction of life sciences is not only for scientists. How can we deal with this? How can we even understand this?

Kathleen Richardson presented us the robots, as they were invented, or reinvented, in the 20s of last century by Karel Čapek, as a means to provoke reflection about human societies, about what does it mean to be human. According to Kathleen, the targets of Čapek’s criticism were well known political practices and ideologies.
Both utopian and dystopian elements were linked to robots. Utopian elements relate to the vision of a future society where machines work and humans only supervise them. Dystopian elements relate to production chains where workers are themselves tools to the machines.
Both the utopian and the dystopian elements Kathleen Richardson mentions as inspiring Čapek’s play relate to the collective organization of human societies: which place workers deserve within production structures, which social organization is most desirable.
We still need to concentrate on the question “what is it to be a human being” to better understand the meaning of a brand of technologies that have the potential to change the answer to that question.
However, nowadays, utopian as well as dystopian elements of this kind must better be placed at the individual’s level, rather than at collective level. We expect that medicines and prosthesis can give us a better body, perhaps a better mind, a new face, the chance to replace a leg or a hand that we have lost. Some expect to live longer, others to be able to choose children with such-and-such features and without such-and-such other ones. And some of us want all those opportunities to be a matter of individual choice.

So, core visions of nanotechnology’s dream of transgressing the limits of nature, playing deus ex-machina with molecules – even if perhaps we are not sure about what “nature” means.
Companies deploy huge efforts on many lines of battle to assure not only that we can engineer the living, but also that we can patent the results.
Now old-fashioned fears about robots as creatures of ambiguous status are giving place to hopes of gaining access to new bodies and new minds for ourselves and our progeny.
How to make sense of all this within a unique framework?
How to put the activities of companies, like Genentech; scientific and technological activities, like those being developed under the nano-banner; and cultural and political activities, like those related to the play of Čapek – how to put all this together and how to understand all this within a coherent vision?
My suggestion is to try to use the concept of “sciences of the artificial” to do so.
And I will borrow from Herbert Simon the main idea.
There is a book from Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, published first in 1969, that could be of help here.
According to Simon, we cannot understand what it means to be artificial opposing artificial to natural. Since “The world we live in today is much more a man-made world than it is a natural world”, to define artificial as (wo)man-made has vanishing utility.
As Henry Petroski once wrote (The Evolution of Useful Things, 1994, ix), “Other than the sky and some trees, everything I can see from where I now sit is artificial. The desk, books, and computer before me; the chair, rug, and door behind me; the lamp, ceiling, and roof above me; the roads, cars, and buildings outside my window, all have been made by disassembling and reassembling parts of nature.”
So, we need to take a different way.
Artificial things, artefacts, are not only (wo)man-made things.
Simon suggestion is to define an artefact as an interface between an inner environment, the organization of the artefact itself, and an outer environment. If the inner environment is appropriate to the outer environment, or vice versa, the artefact is adapted to its purpose.
Now, artificial entities, or artefacts, are “all things that can be regarded as adapted to some situation”. And, and this is a crucial point, according to this definition we must consider “living systems that have evolved through the forces of organic evolution” as artefacts or artificial things.
Some examples of Simon’s application of this definition are as follows.
The “economic man” is an artificial system. The inner system of the economic man is adapted to the outer economic environment, and its behaviour has evolved by pressure of the economic environment.
In psychological terms, human beings are also artificial creatures. “Human begins, viewed as behaving systems, are quite simple. The apparent complexity of our behaviour over time is largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves” . Psychology, the study of this adaptive process, must be seen as one of the sciences of the artificial.
If artefacts are all kind of things that became adapted to a situation, we can ask how to make artefacts, how to make things that have wanted properties. The answer to that question is what HS calls “the science of design”, the science of creating the artificial.
Engineers are professional designers. But doctors that prescribe remedies for a sick patient are also designers. A manager that devises a new sales plan for a company is a designer. A political leader that draws a social welfare policy for a state is a designer. Schools of engineering, of architecture, business, education, law, and medicine, are all concerned with design.
If you are working on devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones, you are designing; “The natural sciences are concerned with how things are. (…) Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be (…)”.
Now, my suggestion is that all the presentations in this session could be seen as different approaches to a study of the artificial, or to applied aspects of the sciences of the artificial. They are all about different approaches to the grand design of human beings, of human societies and of human culture, where artefacts fill almost all the meaning in our culture.
One point I want to make is that, talking of “the sciences of the artificial” nobody is proposing neither a new scientific discipline, nor new departments at our universities. At some extent, Christian Kehrt got close to this vision when he said that, to understand the hopes and fears of nanotechnology, it is crucial to study the history of biotechnology and microelectronics. Our suggestion is that we need a new perspective: how are we shaping the future human societies by engineering so many aspects of ourselves and of our communities. And how could we, historians, biologists, physicists, computer scientists, social scientists, and philosophers, work together on this new perspective. For example, trying to understand how technologies are taking the lead of this process. And trying to understand if it is all right about our future being shaped mainly by technological possibilities: sometimes without a proper reflection on what does it mean to be human.
Could this perspective, from the “sciences of the artificial”, make sense to historians of technology?


February 26, 2009

The roundabout case study

Institutional Robotics is a new strategy to conceptualize multi-robot systems, which takes institutions as the main tool of social life of robots with bounded rationality and bounded autonomy. This institutional approach intends to get inspiration from philosophical and social sciences research on social and collective phenomena, and is mainly inspired by concepts from Institutional Economics, an alternative to mainstream neoclassical economic theory.

The goal is to have multiple robots developing activities in a shared environment with human, in such a way that humans can interact with robots "naturally", intuitively, without a need to learn specific techniques to deal with them. The focus is not one-to-one interaction, but social behaviour in physical and social environments populated with many natural as well as artificial agents. So, the robots must be able to recognize institutions and institutional indicators that humans also recognize as structuring forms of their complex social relationships. This includes, for instance, rules, routines, signs, forms of organization of the material world, social roles, and social forms as organizations or teams.


SILVA, Porfírio, and LIMA, Pedro U., "Institutional Robotics", in Fernando Almeida e Costa et al. (eds.), Advances in Artificial Life. Proceedings of the 9th European Conference, ECAL 2007, Berlim e Heidelbergh, Springer-Verlag, 2007, pp. 595-604 link

SILVA, Porfírio, VENTURA, Rodrigo, and LIMA, Pedro U.,"Institutional Environments", in Proc. of Workshop AT2AI: From agent theory to agent implementation, AAMAS 2008 - 7th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, Estoril, Portugal, 2008 link

The roundabout case study

To put to a first test some of the basic concepts of Institutional Robotics, there is an ongoing case study with a minimalist setting. We want a set of robots to become able to behave as car drivers in an urban traffic scenario. The minimal setup represents several roundabouts connected by a small system of streets. Robots will have to know how to deal with basic aspects of the road code, some traffic signs, and agents playing special roles (police robots). Some more general rules, typical of human societies (“respect the integrity of other agents”, for example) must also be acknowledged and respected by the robots. Teams of e-pucks (the small robots being used) should be able to act in a “normal”, “conformist” way in the institutional environment while competing for the realization of a particular task (for example, collecting energy). But the robots could also be able, guided by utility-based considerations, to opt for inobservance of the institutional framework. The experiment will address the consequences of that co-existence of "conformist" and "non-conformist" behaviours within the same “robotic society”.

The case study explores an aspect that is essential in many institutions. Most of the time, institutions have both material and mental aspects. The roundabout in a traffic scenario instances that property. On the one hand, the roundabout, just due to its physical features, constrains behaviour: vehicles can not move on, drivers must choose either to turn right or to turn left if they want to proceed. Now, doing that (deciding in a conformist way, in Portugal, to go right) implies invoking a mental entity, a rule. It is well known that this rule is not the same in all countries. But it always combines with material features of the roundabout to play its role in a institutional environment.

Part of the experimental setup
at Researchers’ Night 2008 (26th September 2008, Centro Cultural de Belém)

A step of the experiment ahead

Basic behaviours: obstacles avoidance, wall following.

Cognitions does not preclude emergence: one e-puck got stuck on a small elevation; another robot, just passing through, and not being aware of the situation, smooths down the elevation with its own weight and frees its fellow.

(José Nuno Pereira, at ISR/IST, is a crucial participant in the roundabout case study.)


November 25, 2007

Social sciences and artificial societies

Epstein and Axtell argue that artificial societies modelling can constitute a new kind of explanation of social phenomena (Epstein and Axtell 1996:20).

Lansing (2002) argues that the modelling of artificial societies can profit from a broad historical perspective of disputes among social scientists and philosophers on how to study social phenomena. To exemplify, he points out the parallel between some writing of Theodor Adorno on the positivist dispute in German sociology and the question that introduces Growing Artificial Societies: “How does the heterogeneous micro-world of individual behaviors generate the global macroscopic regularities of the society?” (Epstein and Axtell 1996:1) This is a classical problem of the social sciences, the micro-macro link problem or the problem of social order.

A number of researches take both perspectives together within Multi-agent Systems (MAS) modelling. Let us give just a few examples.

(Hexmoor et al. 2006), using game-theoretic concepts, studies norms as a possible solution to coordination problems. A normative agent is seen as an autonomous agent whose behaviour is shaped by norms prevailing in the society and an agent who decides on its goals, its representation of norms, its evaluation of the consequences of not complying, and the state of the environment whether to adopt a norm or dismiss it.

(Malsch and Weiβ 2000), opposing more traditional (negative) views on conflict within MAS, suggest relaxing the assumption that coordination can be designed to perfection and acknowledging conflicts’ beneficial effects for social life, as an opportunity to restructuring social institutions. They further suggest importing conflict theories from sociology, even if “the best theory of conflict” does not exist.

(Sabater and Sierra 2005) reviews a selection of trust and reputation models in use both in “virtual societies” (such as electronic markets, where reputation is used as a trust-enforcing mechanism to avoid cheater and frauds) and in fields like teamwork and cooperation.

(Alonso 2004) argue for using rights and argumentation in MAS. If agents must comply with norms automatically, they are not seen as autonomous any more. If they can violate norms to maximize utilities, the advantages of normative approach evaporate and the normative framework does not stabilize the collective. The concept of rights offers a middle way to escape the dilemma. Individuals have basic rights to execute some sets of actions (under certain conditions), but rights are implemented collectively. Agents are not allowed to inhibit the exercising of others’ rights and the collective is obliged to prevent such inhibitory action. Rights are not piecemeal permissions; they represent a system of values. Nobody can trade with rights (even its own); rights are beyond utility calculus. Systems of rights do not eliminate autonomy. Because they are typically incomplete or ambiguous, some argumentation mechanism must be at hand to solve underspecification problems.

“Socionics” is a combination of sociology and computer science (Malsch & Schulz-Schaeffer 2007). The Socionics approach does not ignore emergence and self-organisation in societies. For example, the Social Reputation approach belongs to a stand of research about emergent mechanisms of social order. (Hahn et al. 2007) models reputation as a mechanism of flexible social self-regulation valuable when agents, working within the framework of Socionics, need to decide to whom cooperate in certain circumstances. Although, emergent self-organisation is often of no help to model complex social interaction because it involves individuals “capable of reflexively anticipating and even outwitting the outcome of collective social interaction at the global level of social structure formation” (Malsch & Schulz-Schaeffer 2007:§2.8). Why ignore that social norms and regulations exist in human societies? The projects described within the Socionics framework are in search of integrated approaches for both sides of a persistent controversy: is social structure an emergent (“bottom up”) outcome of social action? or is social action constituted (“top down”) from social structure? (Malsch & Schulz-Schaeffer 2007:§3.1)

The question now is: facing such a variety, how would we choose the most promising concept to deal with the problem of social order in artificial societies?


(Epstein and Axtell 1996) EPSTEIN, J.M., and AXTELL, R., Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up, Washington D.C., The Brookings Institution and the MIT Press, 1996

(Lansin 2002) LANSING, J.S., «“Artificial Societies” and the Social Sciences», in Artificial Life, 8, pp. 279-292

(Hexmoor et al. 2006) HEXMOOR, H., VENKATA, S.G., and HAYES, R., “Modelling social norms in multiagent systems”, in Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, 18(1), pp. 49-71

(Malsch and Weiβ 2000) MALSCH, T., and WEIΒ, G., “Conflicts in social theory and multiagent systems: on importing sociological insights into distributed AI”, in TESSIER, C., CHAUDRON, L., and MÜLLER, H.-J. (eds.), Conflicting Agents. Conflict Management in Multi-Agent Systems, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000, pp. 111-149

(Sabater and Sierra 2005) SABATER, J., and SIERRA, C., “Review on Computational Trust and Reputation Models”, in Artificial Intelligence Review, 24(1), pp. 33-60

(Alonso 2004) ALONSO, E., “Rights and Argumentation in Open Multi-Agent Systems”, in Artificial Intelligence Review, 21(1), pp. 3-24

(Malsch & Schulz-Schaeffer 2007) MALSCH, Thomas and SCHULZ-SCHAEFFER, Ingo, “Socionics: Sociological Concepts for Social Systems of Artificial (and Human) Agents”, in Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 10(1)

(Hahn et al. 2007) HAHN, Christian, FLEY, Bettina, FLORIAN, Michael, SPRESNY, Daniela and FISCHER, Klaus, “Social Reputation: a Mechanism for Flexible Self-Regulation of Multiagent Systems”, In Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 10(1)


November 19, 2007

The doctrinal paradox, the discursive dilemma, and some problems of deliberative capabilities in multi-agents systems

Deliberative capabilities of multi-agents systems do not necessarily emerge from their individual members' deliberative capabilities alone. Although, we don’t need any kind of telepathy (wireless direct communication between robots) or collective consciousness in order to conceptualize those capabilities. Pettit (2004) helps understanding the problem, leading us from the doctrinal paradox, identified in jurisprudence, to a generalized discursive dilemma most deliberative collectives may face.

This is an example of the doctrinal paradox.
A three-judge court has to decide a tort case and judge the defendant liable if and only if the defendant’s negligence was causally responsible for the injury to the plaintiff and the defendant has a duty of care toward the plaintiff. Now, which decision has been taken when judges voted as follows?

Cause of harm?
(Premise 1)
Duty of care?
(Premise 2)
Judge AYesNoNo
Judge BNoYesNo
Judge CYesYesYes

With a conclusion-centered procedure, the court decides “No”. With a premise-centered procedure, the court decides “Yes”, the conclusion following deductively from the conjunction of positive answers to both premises. The doctrinal paradox consists in having different outcomes to the same case with the same votes but different procedures. The same paradox can arise with a conclusion linked to a disjunction of premises. For example, when an appellant should be given a retrial either if inadmissible evidence has been used or a forced confession has taken place.

Inadmissible evidence?Forced confession?Retrial?
Judge AYesNoYes
Judge BNoYesYes
Judge CNoNoNo

The paradox in not confined to courts and legal domain. It can arise within many groups, like appointment and promotion committees or committees deciding who is to win a certain contract or a prize. “It will arise whenever a group of people discourse together with a view to forming an opinion on a certain matter that rationally connects, by the lights of all concerned, with other issues” (Pettit 2004:170).

In a generalized version, the paradox is named the discursive dilemma. Purposive groups (organizations with a specific function or goal, like states, political parties or business corporations) will almost inevitably confront the discursive dilemma in an especially interesting version. They have to take a series of decisions over a period of time in a consistent and coherent way.
Take as an example a political party that takes each major decision by a majority vote. It announces in March it will not increase taxes if it gets into government and announces in June it will increase defence spending. In September it must announce whether it will increase spending in other policy areas. The following matrix (where A, B, C stands for voting behaviour patterns) shows the dilemma’s structure.

Increase taxes?Increase defence spending?Increase other spending?
ANoNoNo (reduce)
BNoNo (reduce)Yes

If the party allows a majority vote on last issue, it risks incoherence and, so, discredit.

This kind of situations can occur partly because in ordinary social life people (even within organizations) do not show preferences and take decisions on the basis of complete information and deep theoretical basis. So, collectives prone to achieve their own goals, involving the outside world and/or their own members, must adopt some kind of collective reason, some mechanism to sustain coherent global behaviour towards those goals. Collective reason does not necessarily emerges from individuals’ reason alone.


(Pettit 2004) PETTIT, Philip, “Groups with Minds of their Own”, in SCHMITT, Frederick (Ed.), Socializing Metaphysics, New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 2004 pp. 167-193 (click to get the paper in pdf file)

More information at the Philip Pettit's Web Page


November 15, 2007

Bounded autonomy: autonomy and dependence

“The agents have bounded autonomy”. What could this mean? Let us try to contribute to an answer with the help of (Conte and Castelfranchi 1995: Chps. 2 and 3).

To be autonomous an agent must be capable of generate new goals as means for achieving existing goals of its own. But, except for heavenly beings, autonomous agents are not self-sufficient. The autonomy is limited by dependence. An agent depends on a resource when he needs it to perform some action to achieve one of his goals. Beyond resource dependence, there is social dependence: an agent x depends on another agent y when, to achieve one of his goals, x needs an action of y. Agents can even treat other agents as resources. There is mutual dependence between two agents when they depend on each other to achieve one and the same goal. Dependences imply interests. A world state that favours the achievement of an agent’s goals is an interest of that agent.

The relations of dependence and interest hold whether an agent is aware of them or not. Objective relations between two or more agents or between agents and the external world are those relations that could be described by a non-participant observer even if they are not in the participants minds. So, there is an objective base of social interaction. There is social interference between two agents when the achievement of one’s goals has some (positive or negative) effects on the other achieving his goals – be those effects intended or unintended by any agent.
Limited autonomy of social agents comes also from influencing relations between them. By acquiring beliefs about their interests agents can acquire goals. An agent can have true beliefs about his interests, when they overlap with objective interests. True beliefs about interests can help setting goals and planning action. But an agent can also have false beliefs about interests, as well as ignoring some of his objective interests. Furthermore, there can be conflicting interests of the same agent (viz immediate vs. long-term interests).

Now, an agent can adopt another agent’s goals. If y has a goal g and x wants y to achieve g as long as x believes that y wants to achieve g, we can say that x adopted the y’s goal. The goal adoption can be a result of influencing: y can work to have x adopting some of y’s goals. By influencing, new goals can replace older ones. An agent x can influence another agent y to adopt a goal g according to x’s needs, even if that goal g is not an interest of y.

So, the bounded autonomy of the agents comes from the relations of dependence and influencing holding among them, and between them and the real world.

(Conte and Castelfranchi 1995) CONTE, Rosaria, and CASTELFRANCHI, Cristiano, Cognitive and Social Action, London, The University College London Press, 1995



Pfeifer and Bongard (2007), dealing with design principles for collective systems, suggest that, according to the “level of abstraction principle”, collective intelligence refers not only to groups of individuals, as in human societies, but equally “to any kind of assembly of similar agents”, including groups of modules in modular robotic systems or organs that make up entire organisms (Pfeifer and Bongard 2007:241-243). Now, the “level of abstraction principle” raises the following question: to put individuals (for example) in human societies on the same foot with organs or modules purports to ignore different degrees of autonomy enjoyed by a human lung and a human individual. Pim Haselager helps to elaborate on that question.

According to Haselager, the following definition sums up various interpretations of autonomous agents circulating within AI: “Autonomous agents operate under all reasonable conditions without recourse to an outside designer, operator or controller while handling unpredictable events in an environment or niche” (Haselager 2005:518). This could be a working definition within robotics, relating more autonomy to less intervention of human beings while the robot is operating, and ruling out completely predetermined environments.
However, from some philosophical perspectives this conception of autonomy would be unsatisfactory, because it lacks an appropriate emphasis on the reasons for acting. A truly autonomous agent must be capable of acting according to her own goals and choices, while robots don’t choose their goals. Programmers and designers are the sole providers of goals to the robots. Notwithstanding, roboticists can safely ignore this “free-will concept of autonomy”. Mechanistic inclined philosophers do the same. For them, free-will is just an illusion and even adult human beings have no real choices.

Haselager offers a third concept of autonomy that could narrow the gap between autonomy-in-robotics and autonomy-in-philosophy. This concept of autonomy focus on homeostasis and the intrinsic ownership of goals.
A system can have his own goals, even if it cannot freely choose them, if they matter to his success or failure. A robot owns his goals “when they arise out of the ongoing attempt, sustained by both the body and the control system, to maintain homeostasis” (Haselager 2005:523). For example, a robot regulating his level of energy is in some way aiming for a goal of his own. This is still true despite the fact the robot is not free to ignore that specific goal. Evolutionary robotics, allowing the human programmer to withdraw from the design of that behaviour, still increases autonomy. That approach could be further improved with co-evolution of body and control systems, as much as adding autopoiesis to homeostasis. Notwithstanding, our understanding of autonomy, both in technical and in philosophical terms, could benefit from those ways to experiment how goals become grounded in artificial creatures.

Whether full autonomy is attainable is a remaining question.


(Pfeifer and Bongard 2007) PFEIFER, R., and BONGARD, J., How the Body Shapes the Way We Think, Cambridge: Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 2007

(Haselager 2005) HASELAGER, Willem F.G., “Robotics, philosophy and the problems of autonomy”, in Pragmatics & Cognition, 13(3), 515-532 (click to open the pdf file)

Haselager page


October 19, 2007

A Instituição, Manuel Botelho, 1985

A Instituição, Manuel Botelho, 1985, carvão sobre papel, colecção Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisboa

The Institution
, Manuel Botelho, 1985, charcoal on paper, collection Fundação Calouste Gulbenkin, Lisbon

(clicar para aumentar)
(click to zoom in)


October 18, 2007

Best Philosopy Paper Award - ECAL 2007

The paper "Institutional Robotics", by Porfírio Silva (a philosopher) and Pedro Lima (a roboticist), received the Best Philosopy Paper Award in ECAL 2007 - 9th European Conference on Artificial Life, Lisbon, held in Lisbon from 10th to 14th September 2007.

SILVA, Porfírio, e LIMA, Pedro U., "Institutional Robotics", in Fernando Almeida e Costa et al. (eds.), Advances in Artificial Life. Proceedings of the 9th European Conference, ECAL 2007, Berlim and Heidelbergh, Springer-Verlag, 2007, pp. 595-604

Certificate for Best Philosophy Paper, ECAL 2007

(click to zoom in)


October 17, 2007

First appearance of the concept in a paper

The very first use of the concept "Institutional Robotics" in a scientific paper is documented by the following link (paper in Portuguese, pdf file, click to download):

SILVA, Porfírio, "Por uma robótica institucionalista: um olhar sobre as novas metáforas da inteligência artificial", in Trajectos, 5 (Outono 2004), pp. 91-102

Toward Institutional Robotics.
A view on the new metaphors of artificial intelligence.

Collective Robotics represents a deep renewal of the classic model of inquiry in Artificial Intelligence. This renewal goes on pair with new inspiring metaphors, which now become more than ever close to social sciences. A notable example of this is RoboCup, the World Championship of Robotic Soccer, which 2004’s edition took place in Lisbon.

This text, part of an ongoing critical reflection on the sciences of the artificial, starts with an account of relevant mutations Artificial Intelligence is experiencing. Afterwards, we analyse the dynamics of the new inspiring metaphors giving place to new strands of the old objective of building intelligent machines. Finally, inspired by unorthodox approaches to the philosophy of economics, we suggest an institutional approach to collective robotics.


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